Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Shoot For The Moon

My short story, "Shoot For The Moon", was published recently in Monomyth. As has become habit, I'm briefly going to blog about the story's gestation. There may be spoilers for anyone yet to read it.

This piece began life as an idea for the anthology, "Astrologica", edited by Allen Ashley. The guidelines were to write a story based on one of the signs of the zodiac. I knew I wanted to write a piece, but as the deadline loomed I found it increasingly difficult to get my head around the concept. Eventually I decided to write about a travelling sideshow, where each exhibit was somehow linked to a zodiac sign. Of course, this left me with a problem as to which star sign to focus on as the main character, but doing a little research suggested the back story behind Taurus might be a good idea. I would have Taurus leave the sideshow and have the others try to get him back or get a replacement. After all, you can't have a zodiac sideshow with one star sign missing.

As I wrote, however, I found the story became shoehorned into the concept rather than something which grew naturally. In some ways it's quite different from my other work (similar, in fact, to the stories in a collection that Allen and I wrote together and awaits publication - after 8 years). Allen liked the piece, but pointed out my main character is the only zodiac sign that doesn't actually speak during the whole story. For that reason - and a couple of others - he felt it wasn't appropriate to take it for the book.

After a few edits I decided to send it elsewhere, and it wasn't long before it found a home in Monomyth. I'd never actually seen the magazine before, but it's a good home for the piece. The magazine reminds me of the 'good old days' of the independent press, where similar home grown products such as Grotesque, Alternaties, Peeping Tom and suchlike held sway. Check it out. (I don't think the current issue is yet showing on their home page, and I can't get up a list of contents).

"Shoot For The Moon" was written listening to Kraftwerk on repeat. I haven't made a note of the album, but I think it was "Trans-Europe Express".

Monday, 29 December 2014

My Writing Year 2014

I thought I'd do a quick blog post as to my literary achievements during 2014.

In March this year my neo-noir crime novel, "The Immortalists", was published by Telos, with the second in the series, "Church Of Wire", scheduled for early 2015. I've also just finished writing the fourth book in the series, titled "The Happy Finish".
I wrote thirteen short stories this year: "Flytrap", "The Soft Explosion", "The Nomenclature Of Fear", "The Call Of The Void", "The Unthinking Tyranny Of History", "A Life In Plastic", "Vulvert", "Black Lung", "Somntuta", "The Steam Room", "The Day My Heart Stood Still", "Clusterfuck" and "You Can't Handle Love".

I sold thirteen short stories: "Bothersome" and "A Life In Plastic" to anthologies I'm not currently allowed to name, "The Last Mohican" to punkPunk!, "The Abduction Of Europe" to Dali-ances: The Salvador Dali Anthology, "Flytrap" to Interzone, "Soapsud Galaxies" to Jupiter SF, "Periscope" to Perihelion, "Burning Daylight" to Confingo, "Black Lung" and "The Frequency of Existence" to Black Static, and "The Day My Heart Stood Still" to PostScripts. In terms of reprints, "Your Golden Hands", was accepted for Unconventional Fantasy, A Celebration Of Forty Years Of The World Fantasy Convention, and "Drowning In Air" will be published in Best British Horror 2015 from Salt

The following thirteen short stories were published this year: "Interference" in Chiral Mad 2, "A Knot Of Toads" and "Black Lung" in Black Static, "Drowning In Air" in Strange Tales IV, "Softwood" in La Femme, "Flytrap" in Interzone, "Beyond The Island Of The Dolls" in Postscripts to Darkness Vol 5, "Periscope" in Perihelion (that's online, read it from the link), "The Opaque District" in Horror Uncut, "Your Golden Hands" in Unconventional Fantasy, "Burning Daylight" in Confingo, "Soapsud Galaxies" in Jupiter SF, and "Shoot For The Moon" in Monomyth.

I have a handful of stories awaiting publication that were accepted in 2013/2014, a novella, a short story collection, and one novel under consideration, and a collaborative story collection still awaiting publication. The anthology, "punk!Punk!", that I edited for DogHorn Publishing should be published in January 2015, and a short story collection, "Human Maps", will appear from Eibonvale Press sometime in 2015. I have also worked on two issues of Fur-Lined Ghettos with my partner, and have made available two of my previous short story collections on Kindle as I now hold the rights to these ("The Virtual Menagerie" and "Beyond Each Blue Horizon")

I consider that to be a good year!

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Snout!

Regular readers of this blog will know I have a predilection for long-snouted animals, but it's been a while since I posted a picture of one. Just for Christmas then, here's a great image of an anteater:


Speaking of Christmas, we attended an event in Norwich recently selling our Fur-Lined Ghettos magazine and came across a stall selling prints and wood cuts of various long-snouted creatures (the tamandua, armadillo and anteater amongst them) in addition to some lesser critters. My partner purchased a print for myself which I've yet to see, but that will ensure an exciting Christmas morning. The artist is Emma Traynor, and one of her images is here:


When it's snout / check it out!

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Soapsud Galaxies

My short story, "Soapsud Galaxies", has recently been published in the new issue of Jupiter SF, and as usual I'm blogging just a few lines about the birth of the story. Be aware there may be spoilers for those who have yet to read it.


The story is quite a short piece based around a simple premise (one that, in retrospect, is similar to a chapter in Ray Bradbury's "The Martian Chronicles"): what if aliens could transform themselves into people we could love? In my piece, aliens are integrating with human society in order to breed, their appearances conforming to our individual preferences for beauty in order to maximise this. As humans, we have no choice but to make that connection even when understanding it for what it is. Told with a little bit of humour and a little bit of pathos I hope it hits the right spot with readers.

The title quite simply came from looking at a washing-up bowl filled with slowly rotating soapsuds and realising how closely it resembled the universe. Sometimes an idea can be found in the most natural of locations.

Where my story probably differs from a standard SF tale is that my character quotes from the French New Wave movie "La Maman et le Putain", directed by Jean Eustache. The quote I've used seemed to summarise the sexual imperative. I often find movies from this period spark my fiction and am pleased as to how it works in this story.

Jupiter #XLVI (issue 46 for those who don't know their roman numerals) also contains fiction from Ray Blank, Lou van Zyl, Rod Slatter, Richard Foreman and Chris Bailey. The cover is by David Conyers. It can be ordered here

As usual, I wrote "Soapsud Galaxies" listening to one CD on repeat. In this case it was Galaxie 500's "On Fire".

Friday, 21 November 2014

Black Lung

My short story, "Black Lung", has recently been published in the new issue of the UK's premier horror magazine, Black Static, and as usual I'm blogging just a few lines about the birth of the story. Be aware there may be spoilers for those who have yet to read it.


As I've blogged before, many of my ideas stem from titles, and in this case black lung was the name we attributed to our new neighbour's mother who visited over the course of a few days back in the summer and who smoked outside their back door which meant the smoke drifted up and into our bedroom window and wasn't particularly pleasant. I can't remember which of us christened her that name, but it struck me as a good title for a story.

The main crux of the story, however, came from a dream. In 2012 my first ex-wife - the mother of my eldest daughter - took her own life. From time to time I dream about her, not always unpleasantly, but there was one particular occasion where the dream affected me with such melancholy that I knew I needed to write about it. As in the story, within the dream we noticed each other, hugged and chatted, and she was completely unaware that I knew she was dead (in the dream itself I knew she was dead - but also that she wasn't yet dead in the dreamworld, that was to come). I felt an unbearable sadness upon waking because her unawareness was a painful innocence, the dismantling of hope.

The 'dreamlike' quality to the 'dream' is fairly accurately described in the story, as is the notion of the bridge, which - in a waking state - seems an obvious representation of the world of the dead. Within this construct I placed an antagonist, Black Lung, on the human side of the bridge. Thus the two halves of the story idea joined.

Hopefully the story works without this background and I've been able to convey the melancholy with universal appeal. Personally, it's one of the most intense stories I've ever written, although without that connection it might come across no more than fluff.


These instances elucidate what I realise I already knew. Ondine is two weeks away from death and she is unaware of it. But I am aware. I am tragically aware. She looks at me and smiles and I remain brutally aware.

The November–December issue has new dark fiction by Ralph Robert Moore, Usman T. Malik, Simon Bestwick, Annie Neugebauer, Andrew Hook, Aliya Whiteley. The cover art is by Ben Baldwin (for 'Drown Town' by Ralph Robert Moore), and interior illustrations are by Ben Baldwin, Tara Bush and Dave Senecal. The usual features are present: Coffinmaker's Blues by Stephen Volk and Blood Pudding by Lynda E. Rucker (comment); Blood Spectrum by Tony Lee (DVD/Blu-ray reviews); Case Notes by Peter Tennant (book reviews), which includes an extensive interview with James Cooper. More details including purchase info here.

Finally, I wrote "Black Lung" whilst listening to the album "Initials B.B." by Brigitte Bardot on a loop.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Cover Art - Church of Wire

Just a quick blog post to reveal the cover art (by Iain Robertson) of my new novel, "Church Of Wire", which will be appearing from Telos Crime early 2015. It's the second in a series of neo-noir crime novels featuring my PI, Mordent. The third in the series has already been written and I'm currently midway through the fourth. Would be interested in any comments on the cover. The book can be pre-ordered here.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Burning Daylight

My short story, "Burning Daylight", has recently been published in the second issue of the excellent Confingo magazine, and as usual I'm blogging just a few lines about the birth of the story. Be aware there may be spoilers for those who have yet to read it.

Most of my fiction stems from the title, and rather embarrassingly I must confess the term burning daylight came from the TV show, "Dog The Bounty Hunter", where Dog - as usual - was trying to track down a bail jumper and time was running out. "C'mon, we're burning daylight here!" he shouted, as I scribbled down the potential title. (I will point out I was watching this at work and it was not a programme of choice!)

For a while I wasn't sure what kind of story it might relate to. "Burning Daylight" initially struck me as a potential vampire story, but I don't write many of those and it didn't appeal. So I began to think of the concept of burning daylight in Dog's context, that of wasting time. What wouldn't want to waste time? Something that didn't have much time. Like, for example, a mayfly.

In my story the main characters might quite simply be mayflies in a human context or humans in a mayfly context. Either way, the pulse is for procreation at a fantastic rate! Blame wikipedia for any scientific errors - although, of course, it's not a factual piece. I'm particularly pleased with the ambiguity in this story, and all comments will be gratefully received.



After what seemed like an age the final girl stood against the gym wall. Dr Thirst tied a facemask behind his head and nodded to Sir and Miss and to the nurses. From their pockets they produced identical facemasks and attached them; Sir and Miss fumbling with some difficulty. It was clear they hadn't done this before.

Confingo #2 was published on 30th October and as well as my piece contains fiction by Hayley Jones, Helen Anderson, Benjamin Schachtman, Anna Chieppa, Craig Ballinger, Richard Foreman, and Adrian Slatcher, with poetry from Ben Parker, Changming Yuan, Vanessa Gebbie and Ludmilla Mason; and photography from Zoe McLean, Ruth Fletcher and Rebecca Driffield. More information can be found here.

Friday, 10 October 2014

The Opaque District

Recently my short story, "The Opaque District", appeared in Horror Uncut, a collection of austerity stories published by Grey Friar Press. As with previous posts I've decided to explain the background to the story for those interested to know. Beware, there may be spoilers if you haven't read the piece.

I originally became aware of the anthology via correspondence with one of the editors, Joel Lane, who asked me to take part when we were discussing his possible contribution to an anthology I was editing, "punkPunk!". As many readers of this blog will know, Joel died unexpectedly in November 2013 (I wrote about this here), but the anthology continued through the co-editor, Tom Johnstone. The theme of the anthology was austerity and horror, how the two can combine, interplay, react. Tom has written a detailed background to the gestation of the anthology within the book, so I won't go into too much detail here. The other contributors include Joel Lane, Simon Bestwick, Priya Sharma, John Llewellyn Probert, Stephen Hampton, Gary McMahon, Anna Taborska, John Howard, Laura Lauro, Stephen Bacon, David Williams, Rosanne Rabinowitz, John Forth, David Turnbell, Alison Littlewood, and Thana Nirveau - so this is an anthology well-worth picking up.

My story stemmed - as they often do - from the title. I can't remember where it originated from, but "The Opaque District" was looking for a story for some time. Perhaps strangely, perhaps not, it reminded me of Joel's story, "The Lost District", and when I was approached for a piece for Horror Uncut it leapt out at me as the perfect title for the piece. My idea was that the financial breakdown had become so complete that there were now queues to join the queues, that society had broken so totally that the nature of human relationships had mutated in that we could barely speak to one another, and that a mythical land might exist where none of it had ever happened. Weaving into this some psychosis (Cotard's delusion, where an individual increasingly believes they do not exist - perfect for this piece), I ended up with a reality/unreality story where wish fulfillment battles austerity and the only possible escape is through fantasy. I personally think it's an odd little piece, and I hope that you like it.

Finally, I wrote the entirety of the story listening to Jay Malinowski's "Bright Lights and Bruises" on repeat.


Monday, 6 October 2014

Norwich Zine Fair

Last weekend we attended the Norwich Zine Fair at the arts centre. We've previously attended other zine fairs at different locations with mixed results. What usually happens is that the number of sellers outnumber the number of attendees and if we managed to sell one or two copies of my partner's Fur-Lined Ghettos magazine then we consider ourselves lucky. It's more of a networking thing, but even then the variety of zines can be quite disparate and the opportunities for cross-promotion are slim. And in addition, we've found that our zine with it's particular brand of surrealism doesn't fit into the local literary scene. Because of this, we set up at the arts centre will little more than hope in our hearts and no great expectation.

How wrong could we be?


Perhaps it helped that the organisers had decided to use our latest cover art for the poster, perhaps it helped that we bought some mini-easels to better display the magazine, maybe it assisted that I left Sophie alone to man the table whilst I tried to entertain our 2yr old in the nearby library, but whatever happened something was very clear by the end of the day: Norwich finally appreciates what Fur-Lined Ghettos is all about!

We sold 19 copies. That's NINETEEN copies. That's now helped to fund #6. That's pretty incredible.

So, thanks to everyone who picked up an issue (or two, or three, or even four). We hope you enjoy the read.

The number of sales has meant we are now in short supply of most of our back issues. Please consider making a purchase before it's too late! And as a teaser, here is the cover art for #6 which we hope to have available Dec/Jan. We are still open to submissions.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

FantasyCon 2014

Last weekend saw the annual convention of the British Fantasy Society, FantasyCon, in York. I was pretty excited as I hadn't been to York for a long while, was looking forward to catching up with my writer friends, and as my partner had been away for a couple of weeks it was going to be cool seeing her again too.

We arrived in York around 1pm on the Friday after an easy, sun-filled drive. We were staying at a hotel ten minutes walk from the convention at a fraction of the cost. The very friendly landlady broke all data protection rules by telling us the names of her guests who were also going to the convention: Gary Couzens, Trevor Denyer, Gavin Williams, and Charles Black (plus the names of other guests who it turned out weren't convention-goers). Quite amusing.

It was a quick stroll through some 1970s council housing replete with washing lines towards Platform 1 of the train station and then into the Royal York convention hotel which was directly by the station. We registered and then headed to the dealer's room, dropping some copies of my novel and our Fur-Lined Ghettos magazine on the TTA Press table as arranged with the amiable Roy Gray. Then, as usual, some time was spent saying quick hellos to old friends such as Allen Ashley and Sarah Doyle (who were excited about their poetry collection being launched that weekend - the cover is sublime), David Rix (from Eibonvale Press who is publishing my collection, "Human Maps", next year and who has some great preliminary cover ideas), Chris Teague, Alex Davis, Alison Littlewood (always great to hear about her recent successes), and Simon Bestwick (whose novel, "The Faceless", I read earlier this year and loved).

Checking the programme we decided to pop into York for a bit. It looked beautiful. The old city wall was impressive, as was the general ambiance. We had a delicious ice-cream and then wandered back to the convention where we chatted outside with Trevor Denyer on the terrace.

First item on our agenda was the tribute to Joel Lane. Stood in a particularly noisy bar area, with a game show on the other side of the partition, writers including Mark Morris, Conrad Williams, Jonathan Oliver, Simon Bestwick, Peter Coleburn and Ramsey Campbell read excerpts from his work and provided anecdotes. It was a strange event, neither a wake nor overly sentimental; but of importance to remember Joel whose absence at FantasyCon was always apparent and who is sorely missed.

After this we caught readings with Simon Bestwick and Rosanne Rabinowitz before heading down to the poetry event hosted by Allen Ashley. My partner, Sophie, read two of her surreal erotic poems, and was her usual nervous self (which, for me, adds to her performance). We also enjoyed the other readings - a great mixture of genre and non-genre pieces.

Tired and hungry we headed out around 9:30 for some food, weaving our way through idiots dressed as traffic cones, and eventually seating ourselves in Nandos as a safe option. By the time we were out of there it was after 11 and - tempted as we were to head back to the convention - decided an early night was best. It would have been earlier if after walking back through the station and car park the cycle gates were unlocked, but nevermind, the circular walk did us good.

After a full breakfast Saturday we wandered around York in a wet drizzle before getting to the convention mid-morning. It was becoming apparent that some people I had hoped to see and catch up with weren't attending: Neil Williamson, Nina Allen, Douglas Thompson, and Graham Joyce which was a shame. We hung in the dealers room for a bit and had a long chat with Cat Sparks and her partner Rob Hood who were over from Australia before going to Gary Couzens' reading, followed by Allen Ashley and Sarah Doyle's joint poetry reading. As with yesterday's readings, it's always great to hear stories come alive from writers I respect. And then came my own reading scheduled for 2pm.

I had intended to read from the crime novel, "The Immortalists", but decided that morning to read a new short story, "The Day My Heart Stood Still", after timing myself and realising I could run through it in the 16 minutes allowed (it was also 'fantasy', after all). I had a reasonably sized crowd and the story was well-received. I do like public readings as it's always great to get a reaction which otherwise you wouldn't receive. I was particularly pleased to chat to Jason Gould after the event, a writer I've 'known' since the mid-nineties but who I had never met.

From there we popped back to our hotel to catch up on some sleep before returning early evening and meeting up with Gary Couzens, Trevor Denyer and Rosanne Rabinowitz for a tasty Italian and good conversation at Strada. From there we headed back to the hotel and decided to go to the disco where it turned out Gollancz had put a tab of five grand behind the bar (we only managed to get a couple of freebies it went so quick). Spoke briefly to Linda Rucker about her Black Static column, then Helen Whates invited us over to their table where we chatted - over the music - to Ian Whates, Steve Mosby, Donna Scott and Neil Bond (with his Sultans of Ping FC t-shirt), and Mark West. Eventually we danced to Blondie's "Heart of Glass" - the first and probably only time we will ever dance in public!

The following day we spent a couple of hours in the dealer's room, having sold some of my novel and our magazine. There was an unpleasant incident which marred the day, but I won't document this as we are resolving it separately with the committee and it's under discussion (it involves no one we knew personally). I did have a brief and interesting chat with screenwriter, Stephen Volk about the difficulties getting anything made. After the dealer's room closed we had more ice-cream in York and lunch at Nando's, before returning to the hotel. Chatted to Adam Nevill about his novels and future projects (always intelligent and thoughtful conversations), and then to John Travis about freelancing, Terry Grimwood, and Victoria Leslie (about writer retreats), before waiting for the awards. Had hoped for "Rustblind and Silverbright" to win best anthology as my story, "Tetsudo Fan", opens the book, but it was not to be. A list of the winners is here. I always like waiting for the awards, regardless of whether I'm up for anything, because it affords a proper conclusion to the event. But as soon as they were done we had to get out of the door. Apologies for missing anyone I didn't get the chance to speak to, and also apologies for missing anyone off this report who I did speak to.

It wouldn't be a convention without returning with an armful of books. This year I bought "Where Furnaces Burn" by Joel Lane, "Drive" by Mark West, "The Rhymer" by Douglas Thompson, and "The Violent Century" by Lavie Tidhar. I also picked up freebies of "Shadowplay" by Laura Lam, "Exquisite Corpse" by Poppy Z Brite, and "Havana Noir" edited by Achy Obejas.

The five hour journey home was eventful when our headlights failed, but we got home ok.

Overall, it was a great event. The weather on the Friday and Sunday was beautiful, we got the chance to explore York, and to chat to old friends and make new ones alike. It's always wonderful being in a creative environment when everyone you speak to gets what you do! We can't wait til Nottingham next year.

Unfortunately, FantasyCon was also tinged with sadness: Graham Joyce had been due to host the event, but had to withdraw due to illness. It is with great sadness that I heard Tuesday night that he died. Graham was a much-loved human being, a great writer, and a champion of good causes. On occasion he was very supportive of my own writing and also of Elastic Press when I was in publishing. His death is a great loss and my condolences are with his family and friends. Our world is lessened with his absence.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Periscope

My short story, "Periscope", has recently been published online at Perihelion SF (you can read the whole story from that link), and as usual I'm blogging a few words about the creation of the piece for those who might be interested. Please note, there will be spoilers so it's probably best to read the story before reading this blog.

This particular story was written a couple of years ago and has taken a while to find the right home. Because of this, I find my memory to be a little sketchy as to its birth. I certainly remember having the title - a simple word with much potential - for some time. And once I had the name of the main character (Dr Swe Swe Win) I also had the setting for the story (Myanmar) which added colour to the piece.

The periscope in the title is a device through which the future can be glimpsed, like a machine for scrying. The 'twist' in my story is that the Dr is the only one who can see the future through the device and the information received is completely random - snapshot glimpses of a future without any indication of a date. The 'previews' he receives are therefore more or less useless, yet prevailing governments seize on his visions, desperate to have the upperhand in a world that's gone to pot. This macro world view is counteracted by the micro, the Dr's thoughts on his current relationship and his questioning of what in fact is reality.

I personally think it's a story which improves with each reading. So don't just read it once, read it twice!

Here's an extract: The periscope Dr Swe Swe Win had designed was mammoth and steel, circular in nature, with mirrors at every conceivable angle. He wasn't sure of the science in it because he hadn't expected it to work, but similar to scrying the periscope delivered images directly to the eye of the beholder. Nostradamus used a bowl of water to see the future whilst he was under trance. Dr Swe Swe Win had the periscope.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Beyond The Island Of The Dolls

My short story, "Beyond The Island Of The Dolls", was recently published in the anthology Postscripts To Darkness Volume 5, and as usual I'm blogging the gestation of the story for those who are interested. There may be spoilers if you have yet to read it.

The initial inspiration for the piece came after I discovered (online, rather than in person) the Isla de las Munecas situated near Mexico City. There's plenty of information about this island online, but the following photograph should give an idea as to why I was intrigued by this destination. Naturally I couldn't resist using the location for a story idea. At the same time, the title popped into my head. Naturally an adaption of "Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls" in a totally different context, I liked the association and also the use of the word 'beyond' because this tied in with how I wanted to work the story.



What I was loathe to do, however, was the obvious: some kind of doll-come-to-life story, or even a straightforward horror story. Whilst visually the island might appear creepy, research indicates the reason it looks that way is more about an individual managing grief. I thought it better to use the island as a metaphor, perhaps for catharsis for the main character, and in that respect an almost anti-horror story seemed appropriate. This thought coincided with guidelines I had seen for a Des Lewis edited anthology, Horror Without Victims, and I wrote the piece with that market in mind. Stories are volatile things, however, and towards the end of the piece it was clear that I was trying to shoehorn the story into the anthology's remit without it taking a more natural course. As it happened, Des rightly bounced the story, and I revised the ending and began sending it elsewhere.

In my piece, it is the loss of a child which sends my main character travelling, and the discovery of the island goes some way to assuaging guilt and coming to some understanding, whilst not totally solving the problem. Grief doesn't disappear overnight, if ever; it simply needs to be assimilated into experience. Coincidentally, the death of the child in my story was written without the knowledge of the death of the child in the 'legend'. It was only afterwards that the more immediate connection became apparent.

Here's an extract:

"Those dolls on la isla de la munecas," continued Esteban, "they appear horrific because of their physical state, because they remind us of children, because our minds find it hard to differentiate between the child and the doll. Yet they have simply been neglected. Those exact same dolls, when new, would have been on similar displays within the four walls of a department store. It is only out of context that they appear horrific. And our imagination does the rest."

If you have read the story and have any thoughts on it either way please feel free to comment.

Postscripts to Darkness Volume 5, featuring a stunning array of strange fiction and illustrations, is $18 CAD inclusive of shipping worldwide. See the store page at http://pstdarkness.com/buying-pstd-5/ to order and for more information.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Flytrap

My short story, "Flytrap", has just been published in issue #253 of the long-running science fiction magazine, Interzone, and as has been common with newly published stories I'm blogging about the gestation of the story for those who might be interested. Beware, there will be spoilers for those who have yet to read it.

I initially wrote "Flytrap" for the Terra Aphrodite anthology from Whippleshield Books. The remit was for a story that featured the planet Venus, and the devil in me decided a venus flytrap was such an obvious word association idea that I had to write it in order to subvert the connection. Editor Ian Sales declined to take it for the book, but in many ways this was a bonus as I then sent it immediately to Interzone and it was accepted in a matter of days. The story marks my first Interzone appearance and I'm immensely proud and excited to be part of the magazine.


Back to the story itself. Other than the title and the tenuous venus connection I initially had little to go on, but I had recently read "Invasion of the Bodysnatchers" by Jack Finney (from which numerous movies have been based, of course), and I was struck by an idea of reversing the concept. Here's that spoiler: what if we were the aliens already on Earth who had successfully integrated with the human race yet had a longing to go back home. What if the actual inhabitants of Earth were little more than vegetables in terms of their intellect and there was a danger of dumbing down the aliens through integration. What if the aliens were absorbing all the ennui of the real human race. What would happen then?

From this simple idea the story came to life. Whereas in Finney's book it's the intellect of the human race that needs saving before they become shells of their former selves, in my story the opposite is true: humans are sucking the life and intelligence from the aliens amongst them. It also works as a metaphor about the general dumbing down of society as we become saturated by mind numbing nonsense through a parade of 'celebrity' and 'reality' shows and how our sense of achievement has become determined by how many objects we own. The humans in my story are the empty shells, and my Venusians 'wake up' with the compulsion to escape from this.

Of course, they are only Venusian because of the necessity of the Terra Aphrodite remit (probably why the story was rejected by that anthology) but I'm grateful that the flytrap reference was handed to me on a plate because it also provided me with the required pods as per Finney's story. The artwork for my story is by Daniel Bristow-Bailey and illustrates this perfectly:


Interzone is the UK's longest running SF magazine, but with the recent loss of a distributor it might become increasingly difficult to get hold of a copy. Please consider a purchase, not just to read my story, but for the remainder of the content. Interzone #253 also contains new stories by James Van Pelt, Neil Williamson, D.J. Cockburn (the 2014 James White Award winner), E. Catherine Tobler, and Caren Gussuff. The cover art is by Wayne Haag, and interior colour illustrations are by Richard Wagner, Martin Hanford, Daniel Bristow-Bailey. All the usual features are present: Ansible Link by David Langford (news and obits); Mutant Popcorn by Nick Lowe (film reviews); Laser Fodder by Tony Lee (DVD/Blu-ray reviews); Book Zone: reviews of many latest releases plus an interview with John Joseph Adams and Jonathan McCalmont's Future Interrupted column.

You can pick up a copy here.

Finally, as usual I wrote this story listening to one CD on repeat. In this case it was "Too Much Information" by the wonderfully lyrical Maximo Park.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

The Immortalists - promotion and feedback

As regular readers of this blog will know my neo-noir crime novel, "The Immortalists", was published in March by Telos. As well as the publisher ploughing ahead with their own agenda I've also been active in promoting the book (any author has to in this day and age, you can't sit back and watch the royalties flood in whilst thinking that the writing of the book sees the end of your involvement).

So, I thought I'd summarise what I've done so far together with some reader feedback, but also mentioning some difficulties I've been having promoting a book when EVERYONE is promoting a book.

1. Book Signing. I had a signing at the Diss Publishing Bookshop last month which - due to a beautiful summer's day - didn't attract a lot of custom. This was no one's fault. The event was well advertised by both myself and the store and in all fairness we sold copies to those who were passing trade. I've been invited back to do another signing towards Christmas on a date to be fixed.

2. Readings. I've also promoted the book doing open mic readings at our local Café Writers group, and I have a booking for the 2nd September at the Salon in Norwich as part of their noir evening which is a preamble to a full-blown noir weekend. I must admit I've found readings in the past don't lead to immediate sales, but like all promotion hidden sales can accrue after the event. It has been hard promoting a genre novel published by an independent publisher in the Norwich/Norfolk area, probably due to the suffocating blanket of the University of East Anglia creative writing scheme which floods literary events with tutors rather than writers. Perhaps because of this many bookstores/events seem prone to paraphrasing Dr Seuss' "Green Eggs and Ham": 'I do not like that genre lit, I do not like it not one bit'. I was, however, interviewed on local Future Radio which was very enjoyable.


3. Goodreads giveaway. I decided to float one copy as a goodreads giveaway, wondering whether those who applied for the freebie might then consider purchasing it. Over the space of one month 875 people requested it, and of those 367 added it to their shelves to be read. I'm not sure how or if that's since translated into sales but at least those people are now aware of the book, and the lucky winner will hopefully do a review.

4. Reviews. These have been slow coming in. Either reviewers are not reading the book or they're not requesting it. To quote selectively from the best to date: "Hook has got the wisecracking dialogue spot on, with plenty of nods to 50s pulp...interesting modern noir". The chap at Future Radio also described it as a "wonderful novel".

5. Once it has been read, however, I've had some great individual reader feedback. Perhaps the best of these has been from Mary Overton, who not only said that she greatly enjoyed the book, but created a 'reader web' to follow the plot - 'a visual of the reader's progress as I was reading'. Here it is (photo by Matt Beall):


I don't know about you, but I find it fascinating and amazing that someone has gone to this effort. And because of the way I write, it's actually far more detailed than my own novel notes would have been! Being a writer is akin to living in a vacuum and any kind of interaction/feedback is essential for the soul. In this instance, it gave me a big smile.

So there you have it: the trials and tribulations post-publication of promoting a novel. Which I will continue to do via twitter, facebook, readings, signings and anything else I can think of.

I can't leave this blog without suggesting you buy it either as a paperback or e-book. If you do so, please review so I know that I'm loved (or hated). Either will do!

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

The Battle of Fantasy vs Reality

I'm not a great fan of domestic football but I love the World Cup. It's not often the world comes together in such a competitive yet encouraging way, and the concentration of the competition over a few weeks and the opportunity to root for an underdog really makes for a great occasion. I don't get all patriotic and jingoistic, however; in fact, when England play I always support the opposing team (true punk that I am). However there can always be spoilers in the tournament and whilst this competition has been superb until this point, last night the spoiler was Germany.

They were described as a "well-oiled machine" by one of the sporting pundits and whenever I've watched Germany I've always thought they were just that: a machine playing with military precision. There's an inevitability to their success, and whilst I don't pay enough attention to look at actual statistics (which no doubt would prove me wrong) it seems that they win every game I watch. That inexorable steamrolling success really gets my hackles up because it runs roughshod over the magic of the game and trashes fantasy by replacing it with reality.



I'm a great fan of fantasy over reality. Let's get this into perspective. As a writer I love the way fantasy intertwines with reality - that what we often consider to be real is in fact quite fantastical. I'm not into overt fantasy such as elves, dragons or games with thrones, but the sense that what we perceive to be real is actually fantasy if we take a step back from it. Sometimes it seems mankind's entire brief is to catalogue the world into routine compartments and to suck the joy out of it. That's why we devised society - to dampen fantasy. And what we've decided to call fantasy in it's place is actually escapism from the society we've created. What we should be doing is reclaiming fantasy from the 'reality' our consensus has decided to call society.

So when Germany scored five goals within 30 minutes of their semi-final with Brazil it completely ruined the remainder of the game - and the tournament. No matter how skillful Germany might have been, or how much credit we should give their players, they completely snuffed out the World Cup. Brazil were not a great side, but they upheld the fantasy of the competition. Germany's performance was not magical, it was routine, equivalent to clinical deforestation in a rainforest. Even the team's celebrations appeared mechanical. Their crushing victory reasserted 'reality' over fantasy, deflated the momentum of the tournament, the final games are almost irrelevant, it no longer matters who wins.

There's something about the destruction of a dream, the imposition of reality, that hurts; that reminds us of the inevitability of death. If Germany had won the game 1-0, or 2-0, or even 3-0 then that wouldn't have been a problem, but they stamped on Brazil's hopes and dreams and ground them under a jackbooted foot. It was the extent of the rout which did the damage. They were the eleven horsemen of the apocalypse reminding us that reality will reassert itself - over and over again - if our consensual reality lets it.

We must take a stand. Embrace the fantastical in your life and let's turn reality on its head.

(I should add that the diatribe against Germany is not due to some misplaced post-post-war residue - I am in no way anti-German and if they had played England I would have backed Germany to the hilt).

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Fur-Lined Ghettos issue #5

Time to announce that my partner's alt-poetry/weird prose magazine, Fur-Lined Ghettos, has reached it's fifth issue and is now available for purchase.

It's chock full of alt-poetry, surrealism, automatism, cut-up, existentialism, experimentation and subtle beauty.

There's poetry from Zachary Aaron, Cassandra de Alba, JR Clarke, Zachary Cosby, Dalton Day, Douglass Guy, Maya Owen, Ross Scott-Buccleuch, Kevin Sharp and Carol Shillibeer, with a short story by KL Owens.

The cool cover art is by Alba Blázquez.



We read submissions all year around, but we can only survive if we sell copies. Please consider a purchase, especially if submitting. Print magazines are getting few and far between, but we love print and won't kowtow to the e-book onslaught. Buy us and bask in the permanency of print!

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Old Books Given New Life As E-Books

I've decided to make available two of my short story collections which have long been out of print as e-books through Kindle. They're only £1.83 (or the equivalent cost overseas), so cheap enough to pick up!

For those unaware, I write strange, slipstream pieces, often focusing on themes of identity, reality and immortality, often coming at these topics from a quirky angle. Elements of SF/F/H infuse the work, but aren't hardwired to the staples of those genres. Think Haruki Murakami, Paul Auster, Graham Joyce - even though I'm also totally different to them.

The first is "The Virtual Menagerie" originally published by Elastic Press in 2002. This is a collection of 19 short stories, some of which were previously published in The Third Alternative, The Dreamzone, Grotesque and Roadworks magazines from 1994 until 2002. There wasn't a large print run for this title - from memory only 200 copies - but it was shortlisted for a British Fantasy Society award in 2003, alongside Stephen King, Ursula le Guin, Clark Ashton Smith, and Ramsey Campbell (who won the award).

Extract from "The In Between Days": He became aware someone was walking alongside him, left of him. He couldn't remember seeing anyone in the shadows, but even without directly looking he knew someone was there now. Despite the small, tremulous, noises of the birds, he could hear his own footsteps, and now the sound was heavier. The person next to him was walking in step; in time with himself.



Blurb and reviews:

In this collection of 19 surreal stories Andrew Hook rides the slipstream through a series of fantastic yet familiar scenarios which, despite their peculiarities, are often only one step removed from reality. Weaving life into death and death into life he skates the twilight zone of our imaginations. His skewed images are both disturbing and vibrant: a daffodil is inserted into an open wound, a giant beaver rampages through a small town, a boy's coming of age is reflected through schlock horror vignettes, and the planet's Eco-system is downloaded on computer disk.

"A strong collection." Time Out

"The best stories here are among the finest that the independent press has to offer." Pete Tennant, The Third Alternative

Buy it here: Amazon UK or Amazon USA (other Amazons are available!)

__________________________________________________________________________________

The second collection is "Beyond Each Blue Horizon" originally published by Crowswing Books in 2005, with an introduction by Joel Lane. This is a collection of 21 stories, some of which were previously published in Fusing Horizons, Nemonymous, Hidden Corners, and The Book Of Voices. Again, I think this was shortlisted for a BFS award.

Extract from "Pardon Me Boys": Once he had held out his arm and watched it for some fifteen minutes. His hand was clearly recognisable, but the familiarity ended at the wrist, and his forearm appeared unreal and apart. The more he looked at it, the less it belonged. When he was unsure whether it had been neurally dismembered, he got up and shook his arm around. How could he live in a body that was supposedly blood, and arteries, and pulsebeat inside? The mortality of that seemed impossible.


World Fantasy Award winner Graham Joyce said: "The collection of disturbing vignettes and cleverly fractured narratives is full of exciting language and seductive philosophical insight. Andrew Hook is a wonderfully original writer."

Sample review: "In Beyond Each Blue Horizon, Hook proves himself a master of slipstream. His stories range from the darkly apocalyptic to the hopefully visionary, some brilliant and none less than satisfactory." Dru Pagliassotti, The Harrow

Buy it here: Amazon UK or Amazon USA (other Amazons are available!)

Should you do make a purchase, please consider posting a review either on Amazon or Goodreads. It all helps!

Friday, 6 June 2014

Goodreads Giveaway - The Immortalists

I've decided to do a Goodreads Book Giveaway for one of my author copies of my neo-noir crime novel, "The Immortalists", which Future Radio presenter Mark Bond-Webster describes as "a wonderful novel" in a recent interview.

Entering couldn't be simpler. If you've a Goodreads account click here: Goodreads.


A reminder of what the book is about:

Ex-cop, Mordent, is an irascible, anachronistic PI with a noir sensibility and a bubblewrap fetish. Hired to investigate a missing person case he believes the job to be an easy pay-check, but when the kid turns up dead and appears to have aged beyond death, Mordent finds the mystery is only just beginning. When a second body is found similarly aged, Mordent is pulled into rival gang leaders’ quests for immortality, a race where the objective is not to finish. And it becomes personal when Marina, a psychic, disappears after tipping off the police about the second body. Mordent had unfinished business with her.

The Immortalists is the first in a series of exciting crime novels putting a neo-noir twist on the genre conventions of bums and dames, corruption and perversion, and cops and informers; all played out on rain-soaked streets amid a shadow-filled city.

‘An excellent writer and stylist, reminding me of Raymond Chandler, Malcolm Pryce and Jasper Fforde. Suitably creepy and sometimes laugh out loud funny.’ Emlyn Rees, author of 'That Summer He Died'

‘Andrew Hook's fiction is always recognisable, but never predictable. He has that rare, lovely ability: to mess with your expectations while entertaining you at the same time.’ Mat Coward, Dagger and Edgar shortlisted crime writer


Take a chance, grab a freebie, spread the word!

Monday, 19 May 2014

BlogHop: Three Things I Don’t Write (and Three Things I Do)

This is one of those writerly blog tour things where I've been tagged by another writer to discuss three things I don't write and three things I do, and where I'll pass on the baton to another three writers to blog their own thoughts. Needless to say, all these writers' blogs are worth reading and so is their writing. In my case, Stephen Palmer tagged me, and without further ado here are my responses:

Three Things I Don't Write:


Politics

It's rare that I touch politics in my fiction because I don't find the subject matter lends itself towards imagination. The closest I've come is my short story, "Beyond Each Blue Horizon", which appeared in an anthology supporting writers in Sierra Leone, and "The Opaque District", an austerity story which will appear in the forthcoming "Horror Uncut" anthology. Generally, though, I leave politics well alone. I find that political stories can be clichéd, preachy and tend towards the polemic.


Revenge

Many horror stories focus on revenge, from beyond the grave, jilted partners, townsfolk retribution and that kind of thing. Me, I think life's too short for revenge - both in reality and in fiction. And again, these kinds of stories tend to inevitably fall into cliché: the revenge turns sour or misguided or something nasty happens to the 'right' person and that's it and no more. Because my mind isn't attuned to revenge, I find I avoid it in fiction.


Excessive Gore

I'm not a fan of gore for the sake of gore, and whilst I have written some disturbing fiction I like to think that at the bottom line horror should be concerned with relationships and the things that can go awry in a realistic manner, rather than down the torture porn route. The same applies to monsters - give it a rest. And the number of stories where someone's eye is gouged out never really convey the absolute horror of the act. Sometimes words are not enough, and with excessive gore they really demonstrate anything other than the paucity of the writer's imagination. Hence my avoidance.


Three Things I Do:


Immortality

This is a theme I find myself coming back to over and over again, no doubt because I am absolutely terrified and appalled by the concept of my own death. Having no belief in an afterlife I get stone cold fear contemplating my demise and using themes in my fiction of immortality probably equates to my own security blanket whereas others might have religion or spirituality. My longer works all deal with immortality: in "Moon Beaver" the title character is on the run from it ("if you lose track of time, time will lose track of you"), in "And God Created Zombies" the main character has it without realising it, in "Ponthe Oldenguine" I deal with the immortality of fame, and in my crime novel "The Immortalists" two crime lords chase immortality as a pelican might chase a dead fish. Yup, immortality is my bugbear and I need to attain it (preferably by dying, and not through my work - to paraphrase Woody Allen).


Identity

"Identity is the crisis can't you see" (Poly-Styrene). The meaning of identity has always interested me: who are we, who we are, and how our identity changes dependent on those we interact with. I see identity as something fluid and transmutable, not set in stone. Examination of identity within fiction is always intriguing because the characters are a construct of the writer, and the writer can therefore hold back information in much the same way as a real person retains secrets. I believe it's impossible to know much about other people and just as difficult to know a great deal about oneself outside of the routine social system we decide to fix ourselves within. So dealing with themes of identity is always to the fore in my work.

Reality

Reality is something else that intrigues me. Quite simply, what is it? I don't have the answer to that question, although it's a certainty that each individual's reality is quite distinct from another's. Reality can be fascinating to explore within fiction, not only because you can create the character's world but also by the examination of the world we think we live in. As you can tell, I find reality to be a nebulous concept: the only surety is that there are no sureties. I'd be hard pressed to confirm the existence of anyone or anything other than myself. That's why reality is such a fun concept to play with. Particularly when an individual's reality can change melodramatically at the drop of anything at all.


I hope that's been interesting. I've chosen to tag two writers, Douglas Thompson and Gio Clairval to take the BlogHop further. Enjoy!

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Genius

The word genius is often banded about quite arbitrarily, and I've been thinking about who I consider fits such a description and what the word actually means.

There's the literal definition of course. The Oxford English Dictionary defines genius as "exceptional intellectual or creative power or other natural ability". However I would qualify this with: "unprecedented amongst the subject's peers". Because if you are a genius within a group of geniuses do you remain a genius?

Simone de Beauvoir said: "One is not born a genius, one becomes a genius", and I agree that nurture rather than nature plays a role in creating a genius; but that also society dictates what is considered to be genius. What might be astounding for some, will often pass others by - and this doesn't just apply to individuals but to stages of history. So the following represent my definition of genius. And because I'm more attuned to the arts over science (or anything else) my pick of geniuses will be restricted to those working within that medium.

(un)Popular Music


There are those who get The Fall and those who just don't understand music. Mark E Smith understands both. This is one instance where it's almost impossible for me to describe why I think Smith is a genius, because for me he just is. It's not sycophancy on my part. The Fall are not my favourite band; their music can be difficult and alienating. Yet I do consider alienation to be an essential part of what makes a genius, because a genius within the arts tends to be someone who doesn't fit with an established norm. My definition of genius would also include someone who remains true to themselves in the face of opposition. Smith clearly fits that role.

As a runner in the music category I would choose Howard Devoto. Lyrically and stylistically brilliant, he would also consider himself a genius.

Art


Dali, of course, was a self-proclaimed genius. And he was right. Having seen many of his paintings close up the detail and perfection is incredible. For those who don't understand his work or are critical of his intent, I would argue that this is a trait that dogs geniuses within the art world: misunderstanding by the ignorant. Additionally, I consider genius is a trait which reflects in the mind of the recipient: genius is recognised by an almost religious glow of appreciation and the sensation that you have come home. This is certainly the case for me with Dali's work, but also why I find it difficult to explain why genius is genius to someone whose connection to the artist isn't as strong.

I don't get the same buzz from other artists, but whilst Gunther von Hagens doesn't consider his plastinations of human bodies to be art they also speak to me in a way that shouts of genius.

Comedy



Bernard Miles described Spike Milligan as "a man of quite extraordinary talents...a visionary who is out there alone, denied the usual contacts simply because he is so different he can't always communicate with his own species..." I would suggest this statement often applies to genius in the arts - someone who is not actually before their time, but at odds with it. Milligan, like Dali, knew he was a genius but retrospectively whilst he is acknowledged as such, the lack of his material currently available commercially is criminal. Whilst programmes laud him as the godfather of modern comedy there are few examples actually available for modern audiences to view. This is shameful, because the surrealistic delight his TV shows exhibited are true indications of genius. Milligan took comedy to pieces and rebuilt it in his own image. Similar to Tex Avery's cartoons, Milligan exposed the artifice around a sketch and brought it into the audience.

The runner-up for me is Stewart Lee. Lee is most certainly a genius who understands comedy, who constantly berates his audience, and is superbly clever in the (de)construction of his act. And like Milligan, he has no contemporaries who are even close to doing what he does.


Film



Another maverick with a singular, persistent vision: film director Jean-Luc Godard. One of the father's of French New Wave cinema and latterly a chronicler of cinematic history, whose movies are always thought-provoking, often difficult, are peppered with breathtaking audacity, and who sparkles with genius. As with the other examples he has sometimes had great commercial and critical success but resolutely remains outside the mainstream and adamantly exists to persist in his own goals. As an innovative, controversial, fiercely intelligent filmmaker with a career spanning five decades Godard is incomparable.

I was going to include Buñuel as runner-up but on reflection whilst I think much of his work is genius I don't think it elevates him in the same way as it does Godard. Instead, I'm plumping for an equally controversial filmmaker who works by his own rules: Lars Von Trier. Justifiably, I believe he is a genius in the making.


Literature


I've found choosing a genius for literature harder than the other categories, despite fiction being my personal preference over the other arts. This is because it's less easy to evaluate an author's body of work in one fell swoop: your eyes can scan a series of paintings or quickly evaluate comedy or film, but reading the back catalogue of a writer can take time. I've found I love the work of Paul Auster, but I can't call him a genius from reading two books (although I suspect that he is). Murakami also appeals, but some of his works are duds. Tom Robbins is a favourite of mine, but a genius? - it would be a hard case to argue. And what of those authors who might only have written one book - no matter how brilliant it was - can they be judged on a sole work? I've therefore decided that for me there are no runner's-up here, but for his achievement sustained over many books, there's one clear winner: Vladimir Nabokov.

"I knew I had fallen in love with Lolita forever; but I also knew she would not be forever Lolita."

Nabokov understood the beauty of words and his adoration of them sustains the genius in his writing. His works aren't consistent, but where he hits the nail on the head he totally hammers it home: "Pale Fire," "Bend Sinister", and of course, "Lolita". Sometimes you have to pause, gasp a breath, and re-read before moving on. Nabokov's intellect can outweigh the reader, but persistence quickly reveals the genius through the words. He's fun, playful, deadly serious and committed.

If anything, writing this blog has confirmed how certain I am about the genius of these individuals; yet I'm also aware that aesthetics are subjective and for some people Mark E Smith's rants and often unintelligible lyrics, Milligan's sheer nonsense, Nabokov's imposing intellect, Godard's perceptive vision and Dali's masturbatory landscapes would not only be considered negatively but also as an affront to popularity. Good. Because it's also said that it takes a genius to know one. Do you know one?

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Softwood

I've just received my contributor's copy of La Femme, an anthology published by NewCon Press, featuring my short story, "Softwood". As usual I'm blogging about the genesis of the story for those who might be interested. There may be spoilers for those who haven't yet read the work.

This is one of those strange instances where a story was written for one anthology and instead appeared in another, both as a result of how the story grew and also because of the direction the publisher decided to take the project. When Ian Whates at NewCon Press suggested I write a story for the noir anthology he was publishing I jumped at the chance. The proviso was that it should feature a strong female character, a femme fatale. As I've been writing a lot of noir at the moment (including, of course, the novel I am perpetually plugging), it seemed an easy write. As it happens my first attempt - or rather, the here's one I made earlier attempt - fell flat, and I had to get my thinking cap on.

"Softwood" was a title I had for a while but didn't know where to take it. Was it a character's name, a place, a state of mind, or a metaphor? I needed something to take it further and this occurred when I became aware of numbers stations. Quite simply, these are radio stations characterised by unusual broadcasts, usually the reading out of numbers by female voices, whose origins and purpose are unclear and with which governments deny any involvement. Immediately I sensed some kind of spy story, with a femme fatale at the centre of it, but the character I began to write didn't tick the fatale boxes - although gradually it appeared her alter ego did...

The story went on to merge these broadcasts with the trace of the supernatural through electronic voice phenomenon, whereby the secrets of Softwood aren't so much the broadcasts themselves but what can be picked up within the broadcasts. Or is this true at all? Had the enforced co-operation of my female character in a pseudo-government session unhinged her to the extent that she couldn't interpret the truth in anything?

I submitted the story to Ian knowing that the piece had diverged from the noir/femme fatale angle and whilst I had one (or was it two?) strong female characters I hadn't really met his requirements. And this is where Ian informed me he'd decided to create two separate anthologies, one titled "Noir" and the other titled "La Femme" and my story would be perfect for the latter book. Result!


Monday, 28 April 2014

Twenty Years Of Short Stories

I realised recently that my first published short story, "Pussycat", celebrates its 20th birthday this year. It's a mind-boggling piece of news to get my head around because it (almost) literally feels like yesterday. I certainly can't place where the intervening years have disappeared to, which is frightening and thrilling simultaneously. However, it did make me wonder which were my favourite stories that I've written between my first published story and the most recent that I've sold. With that in mind I've decided to blog a few thoughts on my favourites. If you read this and are interested, then a list of my published works are on my website. But here are my top 7, in order of publication:

1. "Pussycat" (published in the Science of Sadness anthology from Barrington Books, March 1994)

If I recall correctly this wasn't my first actual acceptance, but it was the first to be published. I still enjoy this piece - and its publication made me understand that what I had been writing was 'slipstream'. Publication in "Science of Sadness" made me realise I was part of a new breed of writer working on the interstices between the genres and that I had found not only a home for the piece, but also a home for myself. I'm still particularly pleased how this story segues through it's three strands, once even changing scenes mid-sentence. I'm a post-post modern man.



2. "Alsiso" (published in The Alsiso Project, Elastic Press, January 2004)

It's interesting that I've chosen a story ten years after my initial publication as my second choice. Hopefully that means I consider I'm getting better as I get older. "Alsiso" was written for an anthology that I edited for Elastic Press (a publishing company I was running at the time) where all the stories were titled Alsiso - the anthology won the British Fantasy Society award for Best Anthology 2004. The genesis behind that idea is a long story, but the crux of the choice here is that my "Alsiso" featured a PI called Mordent with a bubblewrap fetish and was my first crime story. Not only did it spawn several other stories featuring Mordent, but my also recent novel, "The Immortalists", and two follow-up novels (at least one of which, "Church of Wire", will also appear from the same publisher late 2014/2015.



3. "Vole Mountain" (published in Nemonymous #4, May 2004)

This story could be counted as a "reader's choice" because I've had a lot of feedback from various people citing it as one of their favourites. It's also a story I've chosen to read at various events. It's a simple piece about identity and loss and what makes us who we are. My partner, Sophie, pointed out recently that 'vole' is an anagram of 'love' and knowing this actually adds a hidden depth to the piece I hadn't realised. This story was initially published anonymously in Nemonymous together with a story I had co-written with Allen Ashley. In the history of Nemonymous I'm therefore proud to be the only person with one and a half stories published anonymously in the magazine. The magazine came with a pure white cover.



4. "Beyond Each Blue Horizon" (published in The Book of Voices, Flame Books, March 2005; and also in Never Again, Gray Friar Press, September 2010)

This is one of my favourite stories. One which I believe I 'upped my game'. The denouement of which came solely out of a dream where I opened the curtains of my home to find that the city had disappeared around me. There's a political slant to this piece which is intentional as I wrote it specifically for the Book of Voices anthology which was published to support writers in Sierra Leone. That angle also meant it got republished in Never Again, an anti-fascist, anti-racist anthology. I wrote this about it at the time: ‘The genesis of this story originated in a dream whereby the denouément came to me complete. It was such a striking image that I knew I would have to use it in a story. The opportunity to develop it came with a call for submissions for the Book of Voices anthology (Flame Books, 2005), which was published to support the Sierra Leone PEN organisation—part of the international organisation which promotes literature and human rights. The Sierra Leone PEN was established to reinvigorate the diminished writing community after the civil war and encourage those writers who remained to play an active role in society. I decided to explore the scenario of inaction, whereby absolving responsibility or distancing ourselves from potentially harmful political situations makes us just as culpable and detrimental to the force for good as those who wish to violate us.' And I also liked the title so much I used it for my third collection of short fiction.





5. "Your Golden Hands" (published in PostScripts, PS Publishing, May 2011)

I love this story. It's a powerful piece about exploitation of one country/world over another and is another favourite for me to read at events - usually reducing my partner to tears by the time it's finished. Some stories have their own internal engine, and this is one of them. It's also one of the first stories I wrote in one sitting, which is typically how I now write all of my short fiction.



6. "Bullet" (published in Black Static #34, May 2013)

Again, this is another personal favourite merging Kafka with a lost detective novel, a missing person, and incorrect maps. I have a fondness for it because some of the story originated from a dream and I was happy that the finished story captured exactly the sensations I was hoping for. I'm also pleased that I sold the story exceptionally quickly, which is always a nice feeling.



7. "The Last Mohican" (to be published in punkPunk!, DogHorn Publishing, sometime in 2014)

I'm very much a product of the punk era, even if for much of the time I was a little too young to appreciate it fully. I've known for a while I have a punk story inside me, one that encapsulates my feeling of the period mixed with my formative years growing up, and I personally feel that I've written it perfectly in this piece to the extent that I can't read the ending without it having an intense emotional impact. The idea is simple, instead of war heroes displaying their medals on Remembrance Day, why not have punk veterans celebrating the last of their numbers in a world transformed by the movement. Having written this story, and not finding a suitable outlet to place it, the piece also inspired me to suggest editing a punk anthology for DogHorn Publishing, and that book will appear later this year. (I didn't select my own story for the book, but editor Adam Lowe agreed it deserved a place in it).

So that's my top 7. Twenty years after the appearance of "Pussycat" I've now sold my 119th short story, "Flytrap", to Interzone (marking my first appearance in that magazine). It really does feel that I'm currently working at the top of my game. Here's to the next twenty years!

Friday, 28 March 2014

Guest post: Sophie: on being an outsider

Last night's poetry slam was an experience; my first. 

I am in awe. 

I applaud any one who stands on a stage & bares themselves in such a raw & honest way. I know it's something I couldn't do.

But as a writer there is an inherent part of me that wants to be read & admired. I want someone to say "I get it, this is cussing genius". Though I know that what I do is not what they do. I do not, nor feel that I should, call myself a poet. I know nothing of the form, nor do I read poetry on a regular basis. (do I need to?) 

I simply write.

I've arrived at the conclusion that anything I do have to say I can express in few words (& that it's okay to do so). Andrew wrote a whole novel based on a six word story I shared with him. He needed 80,000, I needed only six. I am not verbose.

Perhaps that's down to my crippling shyness, my inability to make eye contact with anyone but my partner, or to hold a conversation, the anxiety that floods my body before I even step out of the door, or the way I struggle to formulate my thoughts into something coherent.

But is my writing, which doesn't stick to set parameters, as valid as theirs? Could I, as someone who writes short obscure surreal subversive sentences, that have no real point & are layered with sexual intent, be taken seriously? Do I have the right to call myself a poet?

Can I legitimately take to the stage & recite the following:


Electroshock blue 
orgasms & daisy coated
aches.
Volcanic honey-soaked
grazes & your
molten tongue on 
stark concrete


or will I be laughed at, misunderstood, dismissed as just another writer?

& there is my fear.

My subversive side thinks I should continue to do whatever it is I do, to call it what I want, & to be proud of it.

Yet I live in Norwich, a renowned city of literature, & I'm still to meet any one who writes surreal alt-poetry, or accepts & praises what I do with my own writing & with Fur-Lined Ghettos. 

Sometimes it feels as though I am living in a void, where anything remotely outside of the mainstream simply isn't welcome. I hope I'm wrong.